Understanding Women’s Professional Confidence

How many of these statements apply to you?

 “I know I’ll be successful…”

“I believe I can get a promotion…”

 “I feel comfortable standing up and speaking in front of a large audience…”

“I feel sure of myself when speaking in meetings…”

“At work I believe that people will take my points seriously…”

 “I am comfortable being the center of attention…”

 “I can be fully assertive when it’s required of me…”

“I know when to say ‘no’ to others so that I don’t end up taking on more than I can handle…”

“I rarely worry about what others may think of me…”

 “I will speak up when I’m  unhappy about something…”

“I can accept a compliment gracefully…”


Saying “yes” to many of these may indicate a high level of professional confidence.

I have seen a lot of tweets lately asking for resources on “women’s professional confidence.”   This intrigues me because I have been reading more about how a lack of professional confidence undermines women in the workplace, in salary negotiations, in promotional opportunities  and in defining a future career trajectory.

Professional confidence can mean many things but I understand it to be when your appraisal of your work is congruent with others’ perception of your work.  It means self-understanding, a willingness to advocate for yourself and being willing to take calculated risks in order to achieve professional gain.

In a  Chronicle article from October 2011 the author discussed why female engineering majors often switch their area of study during college:

“ Specifically, women lack “professional role confidence,” a term that describes, loosely, a person’s sense that he or she belongs in a certain field. The term encompasses more than mastery of core intellectual skills. It also touches on a person’s confidence that he or she has the right expertise for a given profession, and that the corresponding career path meshes with his or her interests and values.”

This article reiterates that it has little to do with skill but more to do with self-awareness, belief in oneself and a limitless sense of possibility.  A lack of professional confidence can be paralyzing.  It can manifest itself in several ways including not exploring opportunities for growth at work, being hesitant in taking on new projects, or not advocating for yourself.


Some women may be conditioned from childhood to think that it’s not appropriate to be a risk-taker or boldly ask for what you want. Boys may simultaneously be rewarded for their “initiative” which sends mixed messages to children. 

“Women are not taught to exhibit self-confidence, and in fact are taught the opposite,” says author Liza Donnelly. “Women often wait to be discovered, wait to be called upon. Asking questions, providing ideas and offering to be the person for the job are all things that we, as women, often wait for. But this only holds us back. Men, on the other hand, generally don’t hold their breath to be chosen. They tend towards the “my opinion is needed here” attitude, continues Donnelly. It’s an attitude that everyone should possess, and luckily, it’s one that is learnable.


How can women build their professional confidence? Some things to consider:

1)     Dare each day to try something new: Confidence improves when you step outside of your comfort zone and take calculated risks.  The successes that result from this bravery teach us that it is OK to navigate uncertainty which leads to increased confidence. 


2)     Count how many times you speak in a meeting: Are you sharing your voice? Do you speak up and advocate for yourself and others in meetings? Get into the habit of contributing regularly.



3)     Connect with women who emulate professional confidence:  You are the company you keep.  Are you surrounding yourself with people who demonstrate professional confidence?  How can you learn from their strategies in the workplace?


4)     Ask, ask, ask: Routinely not asking for what you want or need can become a pattern that can limit your opportunities in the workplace. What is the worst that can happen? You will feel better about asking even if it does not result in the outcome that you were hoping for.



5)     Advocate for yourself  once a week: It doesn’t matter if it is a big or small thing.  Just get into the habit of asking yourself what you want—“I want to speak out in our team meeting about…” or “I am going to make a case for why we need an additional staff member…” or “I am going to ask about using flex time for the next month”…just be mindful of what you want to ask and do it.  Practice makes perfect!  


6)     Moving past professional failures: We all have times in our careers where we miss the mark.  Having professional confidence means that you don’t let those failures define you and that you work through them, find closure and continue to have faith in your own abilities. 


Women who want to blaze a trail are often most susceptible to a lack of professional confidence.  According to author and speaker Tara Sophia Mohr, the voice of self-doubt is about a persons’ “inner critic” coming out.

“Did you know that the more you are pursuing a unique, authentic, fulfilling path, the more likely you are to battle with a vocal inner critic? When we are living ho-hum lives, safe in the status quo, the inner critic tends to get quiet. When we contemplate change, share our unique ideas, or go for our dreams, the inner critic speaks up,” said Mohr.

I have definitely had times where I bit my tongue when I should have spoken up.  Afterwards, I have asked myself why that happened and what prevented me from sharing my voice.  It usually came down to two things—fear and uncertainty.  Fear that my idea would be dismissed.  Uncertainty of the reaction from others at the table.

What I realize now is that it’s ok for my idea to be dismissed—I can separate that from being personally dismissed.    The potential reaction from others (which I always imagine to be worse than they actually are) is not a good enough reason to keep silent.   



Want to know more? Check out these resources.

Assertiveness Workbook

 9 Secrets

Assertiveness Toolkit

The Assertive Woman

 Too Nice For Your Own good

Professional Confidence

Dos and Donts

Understanding your Inner Critic


What barriers are preventing you from achieving professional confidence?


What strategies do you suggest to increase professional confidence?


I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!


Follow me on Twitter: @annmarieklotz



About annmarieklotz

I write about all things education, personal & professional development and growth. Once is a question, twice is a discussion and three times is a blog post! Born and raised in Detroit Michigan but currently calling the Pacific Northwest home. I work at Oregon State University and belong to a fantastic community of higher ed professionals around the globe! Lover of theater and the arts. Live your best life!
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14 Responses to Understanding Women’s Professional Confidence

  1. kelleystier says:

    Thank you for opening up, Ann Marie! I think my biggest barrier is that there are so many thoughts out there regarding people and their leadership….not one thing I do or say is going to be perceived the same by everyone – some could love it, some could hate it, some good think I had good intentions, others may not. Once I feel like I get on the right track with my strengths, processes, when to speak out, etc. I usually learn of something that was viewed poorly by others – and often times, what others are viewing poorly is what another group gave me feedback that I needed to fix or move in this specific direction! These are the times I feel most frustrated and confused – times where authenticity can be rocked and it can be difficult to know and stay true to you. Can’t wait to see what others say as well!

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Kelley! You will always have folks who will cheer you on and support you and others who do not understand your style…and that’s ok. 🙂 I think the key is understanding why you received the feedback and figuring out what pieces to take to heart and what to discard. We are all works in progress 🙂

  3. I think that it’s also important that we examine how workplaces, classrooms, etc can create an environment where exhibiting professional confidence is either ignored or punished. Many of our ideas about competence in the workplace are based on very narrowly defined competencies and we need to deconstruct those.

  4. Debbie Martin says:

    Very nice, Ann Marie! I appreciated your perspective and you provided nice challenges for us all 🙂

  5. Anne Stark says:

    This line really spoke to me “Women who want to blaze a trail are often most susceptible to a lack of professional confidence.” I want to and, often times am, one who blazes trails. It is my inner critic that kills me or keeps me from blazing my trail as broadly as I had intended at the start. I have a good friend currently shoving me outside of comfort zone to start blazing trails on a much larger scale. I hesitate in taking on her challenges because of my inner critic – but she’s right. You are right!

    Thank you for sharing and ultimately challenging me to quite my inner critic!

  6. Anne, I am sure you do blaze a trail–and inspire others regularly! The inner critic is a powerful thing but recognizing when it creeps up is a good first step. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  7. kbosio says:

    Thanks for the post Ann Marie! I needed to be reminded of all these things this week. As someone new(er) working at a school at the beginning of a new time of transition (new President, new initiatives etc) I have so many ideas and goals and got overwhelmed this week thinking why can’t I do them all now and thinking others will just love them without me having to get them excited about it. I am reorganizing my thoughts and goals (and cleaning up my office) to help myself be more productive and to remind myself that I need to be “in” the process/present to get to a positive end result.

    • Thanks for sharing! Transitions can always be tough on your professioanl confidence. You sound like you have an terriffic plan–small goals, be present, etc. I have no doubt that good things will come in time. Thanks so much for reading!!

  8. jeannettemarie says:

    I’m a bit late to reading, but this comes at a very good time for me. My inner critic and I have an occasional kerfuffle which I think is good, as a long as I win! My biggest problem is how others perceive my confidence, or at least how my immediate supervisor perceives my confidence. It is being a big struggle to stay true to who I am and not just ‘play nice’ for the sake of keeping a comfortable work environment.

  9. Hi Jeannette! I think we all do battle with our inner critic but (as you say) the key is to recognize and move past those negative voices. It’s sometimes uncomfortable but always pushes us to grow. Thanks so much for reading!

  10. I’m a bit late reading this, but great post! Having your “idea dismissed” and having you be personally dismissed are two completely different things. Well said. Right on Anne Marie! I think that is a huge key for women in the workplace. If I feel I have a valid idea that I feel was “dismissed,” I’ve learned that I may just need to be re-package that idea again and toss it out for consideration again.
    However, if I interpret that as being personally dismissed, and dwell on that, I’ll let that potentially great idea fall by the wayside, and it will never be considered again. It has taken me a long time to learn this.
    It’s incredibly hard to strive to be an authentic, confident, leader as a woman. Confidence in women is interpreted so differently by people . It’s like walking a tightrope! Displaying professional confidence can be inspiring to one person, and “intimidating” to the next.
    But it’s incredibly important that we develop authentic confidence. It’s difficult, but it’s wonderful to have the support of one another through blogs like this ! Thanks for doing this!

    • Thanks Kristen! I love this idea of “re-packaging”–very smart. Sometimes, its just a matter of timing, too. I appreciate so many of these points and it is important to help other women develop their own sense of professional confidence, too–we will all benefit from it!

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